PMP Certification—Still Relevant?

by Matt Wickey

Most of us are familiar with the Project Management Certification (PMP) offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). But how did this type of project management evolve and insinuate itself in the world of IT? With the advent of agile development methodologies, is PMP certification still relevant?

If you’re like me—meaning you have been in this business 20+ years—you started working in IT when programmers worked for supervisors and managers, etc. As time passed you may have advanced into the new role of systems analyst because you developed a core understanding of the business functions your programs were meant to automate. Over the last 10 or so years the role of systems analyst has splintered into more specific titles like business analyst and project manager. This specialization was necessary because the systems analysts weren’t doing a bang up job of capturing business requirements or delivering projects on time. They needed more specific skills tailored to each specialty.

For project managers the base language of the discipline is the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) and the gold standard certification is PMP. However that type of project management had it’s genesis in the construction industry where commodities and development times are well understood and projects are easily estimated. Software development projects have certain, um, quirks that often make managing them more difficult that building an appurtenant structure.

So along came agile methodologies designed specifically for managing software projects. These projects don’t look like they’re based on the PMBOK. In fact many certified Scrum Masters aren’t even familiar with the PMBOK. They have traded Gantt charts and resource utilization for backlog items and burn down reports. In essence they have acquiesced to the notion that software development projects are different enough from other kinds of projects that they can’t be adequately described by “old” methodologies.

But is this really the case? In our experience we’ve found that successful software projects require some of the old and some of the new (i.e. a little agile and a little PMBOK – a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll). In my opinion there is still a need for the basic blocking and tackling of project management – managing issues, identifying and mitigating risks, tracking costs, communicating with stakeholders. The primary difference between PMBOK and agile projects lies in scope management, the reliance on project plans and the difference between leading and facilitation. These differences are real but, for me, they don’t negate the value of plain old PMI based skills or the PMP certification.

That’s my opinion … what’s yours?
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